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Mr. Musk’s Big F****** Rocket


It’s 30 feet wide, carries 150 metric tons into low-Earth orbit, and could even get you from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes. Those are some of the audacious stats Elon Musk rattled off during a speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, where he explained a vision for a new do-it-all rocket called BFR.

(The B stands for Big and the R for Rocket. You can guess the F.)

As the SpaceX CEO sees it, this jack-of-all-trades rocket will allow Musk's company to perform a wide range of tasks. While 10 feet narrower than Musk’s previously suggested rockets for interplanetary colonization, it’s big enough, he says, to carry out the Mars missions that he described at the same conference this time last year.

As the New York Times reports, the rocket is big enough to carry a spaceship with around 100 people into orbit, which could be refueled so that it could slingshot to the Red Planet. BFR could also fly similar missions to the moon, take satellites into orbit, or transport cargo to space stations.

But Musk’s kicker isn’t extra-planetary—it’s Earth-bound. He says that the same rocket could tear through the fringes of space at 18,000 mph to complete any global trip in under an hour. The video above shows SpaceX’s vision for super-fast flights, which would take off and land on floating platforms near large cities. Musk later explained on Instagram that “the cost per seat should be about the same as full-fare economy in an aircraft.”

And, as ever, his timelines are … ambitious. He says the new rocket could be flying a cargo mission by 2022, with passenger flights to Mars two years later. He calls that “aspirational,” though in reality it seems closer to “unrealistic.” There’s much to be done before such a rocket exists: so far, it's just a concept. And as for flying passengers, well, setting them down using the firm’s vertical landing technology sounds fine, but for now it would be one for the bravest of souls.

Still, the BFR plan does overcome some of the financial issues that SpaceX has to struggle against, by simply using one craft for every job it undertakes. And, in honesty, Musk is likely to pull off some, if not all, of the plans he’s outlined. But when it all happens remains to be seen.